Thursday, December 17, 2015

Getting Lost on the Beaches of Kerala

We are in Kerala on a great south indian journey. We have quite the spread waiting for us at the breakfast table the next morning. These days most meals are like a buffet for a boy who was used to picking up meals at street side stalls. This was luxury times ten. My aunt had elevated me to a whole new lifestyle. Nights in hotels, buffet breakfasts, cars to take you around, it was insane. But I think the most special part of this journey was being with my aunt and her daughter. We had grown quite close over the past few days. The conversation over breakfast was about all the antics we engaged in the day before. The driver, then takes us to a possible starting point for a boat ride down the Kerala Backwaters. 

I wanted to do this my whole life. I had heard a lot of stories about the backwaters, growing up. About the natural beauty of the surrounding environment, about the calmness of life around you on the boat, about the people you get to meet along the way. Mr Muchad told us that we planned to take the daily, in his words, 'most popular and leisurely' eight hour backwater cruise from Allepey to Kollam. It was 9 am, when we left the hotel, with our bags. The boat ride across Kerala would start at 10 30 am and finish at 6 pm in the evening.

When I looked for information about my next destination, this is how an online encyclopedia described it, 'The Kerala backwaters are a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian coast of Kerala state in southern India. The network includes five large lakes linked by canals, both manmade and natural, fed by 38 rivers, and extending virtually half the length of Kerala state.' A blogger by the name of Austin R Pick, spoke about how the 900 km of waterways were a network of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets and compared it to the American Bayou.

We get down at the KSRTC Bus Station in Allepey and then wait for permission to enter the boat. The three of us were like excited little children, waiting to jump onto a merry go round. Finally they let us in. The boat had a first floor. We climbed up to the top and took the front seat. It was like we were the captains of the shop. Only we din't have to actually ride the boat. Everyone on board. Let's go. Te sound of the engine rolling and turning could be heard. The passengers looked at the captain in awe. He was their saviour, their guide, the only individual of importance in this circumstance. Up ahead, the lake opened up and the ocean started. The wide open ocean. Endless, infinite, and powerful. But our captain, was brave too. His navigational skills would take us over every hurdle. Whether it was a storm on the Arabian Sea or a shark attack. A little boy, told his mother, he was scared. The captain turned around and smiled at him,

'Don't be scared, my brave little boy.'

Then I open my eyes, and we are in the middle of the ocean. The captain of my ship is wearing an unbottoned formal shirt, unbuttoned except for one or two lower buttons. He seemed quite bored and did not ant to console the little child crying in his mothers lap, sitting two rows behind him. It seemed like he wanted to just get over with this ride, and get his dues f or the day. I climb back up to my seats on the first floor. I am dejected, that real life is not as romantic and idealistic as I expected it to be. I overhear a conversation,

'Oh God, you know when I went to his mother in laws house, they did not treat us very well. They gave us some simple store sweets and water. Nothing special. It was the first time and we went there and this is what we get. How disappointing.

I know, what all we have to bear for these children these days'

All the great sea novels, I have read, come to mind. The Old Man and the Sea, in particular stands fresh in memory. Two hours into the journey, I go to the back of the boat, on the first floor and look out at the trail of foamy sea water, left behind by the churning of the ship engine. I look up, and I see a boat man, sitting at the edge of his mode of transport, looking straight into my eye, asking questions, without a language.


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